Thursday, September 29, 2011


A friend of mine was once afflicted with what he called The Seger Curse.  That is, whatever store he'd walk into, any store of any kind, would always be playing some Bob Seger song or other.  Whether it was the by-the-numbers rock star posing of Katmandu or the sleepy-time introspection of Night Moves--or worse, the faux-sensitive, let's-fuck-because-what-else-have-we-got-to-do treacly-creepy ballad We've Got Tonight--the tedious ubiquity of the hirsute Detroit legend came to represent everything stale and unimaginative about radio programming: You could play any song in the world, and you actually choose to play Against The Wind?

The curse was eventually passed to me, though in a somewhat milder form (although if I ever hear Old Time Rock & Roll again I may turn violent), was over.  Whoever programs the piped-in music for retail establishments and classic rock stations suddenly decided that was enough Seger for a lifetime, and the world was a better place.

Briefly.  While seemingly dormant, The Curse was in fact mutating, and turned into a Night Ranger Curse.  Which is to say, the radio at work now plays Sister Christian at every conceivable opportunity.

Kind of cute, for awhile.  To the extent that I think of it at all, I associate the song with the Rahad Jackson sequence from P.T. Anderson's Boogie Nights.  Specifically, I think of this:

And hey, who doesn't want to be reminded of one of their favorite movies during a long, tedious work day?

But they keep playing the damned thing.  And it doesn't even matter what station is on.  Our resident surly Boston sports fan tunes the radio to the local AM sports station, and in between incredibly convulted analogies and half-baked theories, there is commercial time.  Specifically, a commercial for an upcoming concert from...Night Ranger.  And seriously, what the hell other song are they going to play during this commercial?  For a supposedly rockin' band--as they reminded us with the helpfully titled You Can Still Rock In America--these guys will always be known for this wimpy power ballad, and not much else.

And I, apparently, will have to listen to the damned thing pretty much every day.  Or at least until I get a new musical curse.  Right now, I'm starting to miss bob Seger.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


A restless night; periods of sleep, followed by fifteen minutes of bleary-eyed waking time, followed by sleep, followed get the idea.

During the waking moments the mind will wander.  Times like this, I often start half-hearted writing projects in my head: random bits of dialogue, character sketches, whatever.  Nothing ever comes of these brainstorming sessions, because ideas that sound great running through a grungy head at 1 AM prove to be utter crap in the unforgiving light of day.

But even by these standards, what the hell was my problem last night?  Did I eat the wrong thing before bedtime?  Because every time my eyes would snap open, I'd immediately start composing what, in my mind, was the most lucid essay ever.

About the movie Anaconda.

Now, because this was a terrible idea occurring to me in the middle of the night, I'm a little fuzzy on what may have been the substance of this piece.  I suspect it may have had something to do with the surprisingly fine cast and tech crew assembled for what is, after all, an amazingly stupid exploitation movie.  If that was my argument, it's severely undercut by the fact that I'VE NEVER EVEN SEEN ANACONDA IN THE FIRST PLACE!

Sure, I've seen chunks of it--to subscribe to a basic cable channel is to have seen bits and pieces of all sorts of movies you'd never normally watch--but I've never done it the courtesy of watching straight through.  So really, how could I fairly judge it?

I couldn't.  And I have no desire to judge it, or to see it, for that matter.  I don't care about it one way or the other.  So why was I thrashing about in bed last night, convinced that I alone could compose the definitive treatise on Anaconda?

Ask me when I'm half-asleep.  The answer won't make sense to you, but in my mind it will be brilliant.

Monday, September 19, 2011


A small part of this past weekend was spent trying to explain to Paul (who does not read comics but will run out to see the latest superhero epic on the big screen) that Stan Lee, despite his jokey cameos in all Marvel Comics movie adaptations, really doesn't deserve sole credit for these characters, and that Jack Kirby's dynamic artwork and character designs really had much more to do with their iconic status.

Which is all well and good, but as a kid in the early seventies, I didn't give a rat's ass about superheroes, and read almost nothing from Marvel.  I was all about DC, and even then, only their war comics, which were presided over by writer/editor Robert Kanigher and a rotating stable of artists, which generally included the unfailingly great Joe Kubert and Russ Heath.  I saw the ads in these books for Kirby's now-legendary New Gods and Kamandi, but since they didn't feature Panzers or Spitfires, I didn't care.

Then, out of nowhere, Kirby was handed one of the books I did read, Our Fighting Forces, featuring the hard-luck squadron known as The Losers.  This was my first real introduction to the work of one of the most influential comic book artists of all time, and holy crap, I became a fan for life.  Though Kirby was a World War II vet, his depictions of the front lines bore no trace of the carefully researched realism Kubert and Heath depicted, resembling nothing so much as clashes between gods and demigods on some abstract Olympus.

The thing that struck me most about Kirby's artwork was his depiction of the cigar-chomping character Sarge, and how that cigar almost always drawn in such a way that it was pointing out towards us, the reader, its tip burning with the black-dotted pattern I would later come to know as "Kirby krackle".  I was so obsessed with how he drew that thing that I soon filled countless Big Chief tablets with characters smoking cigars, just so I could try to get the same effect.

A bit of research tells me that Kirby's run on that title was relatively brief, stretching from late in '74 to the end of '75.  I was nine turning to ten.  And the thing is, when the clear, fully-formed memory of trying to draw my own Kirby krackling cigars popped into my head, I tried in vain to recall anything else from my life in that era.  The best I could come up with was a distinct memory of reading one of these books on a blisteringly hot summer day, siting on one side of the davenport (because back then we called it a davenport, not a couch) absorbing as much of the breeze from the big box fan in front of the screen door as I could.  But who else would have been in the room, what they may have looked like at that time, or even the sound of their voices--no, that seems to have faded, at least for the moment.

As much as I love Jack Kirby's work, part of me wishes my mind had not decided to retain this particular memory, not if it means losing the images and sounds of people I loved much more.

Friday, September 16, 2011


I won't give you all the details about the pinched nerve in my lower back, I'll just mention that it's there and hurts like a sonofabitch.  Pain unfortunately leads to irritability--as Janie puts it, I'm Mr. Grumpypants--and also, somewhat more fortunately, to medication.

Oh, sweet narcotic relief!

When the label clearly specifies that meds are to be taken only at bedtime, well kids, it can only mean one thing: Seriously weird-ass dreams will follow.  And sure enough, on this occasion my slumbering form found itself sitting through an entire endless Saturday Night Live episode hosted by Christina Aguilara, who occasionally morphed into Cyndi Lauper because fine, whatever, but more to the point, she was the center of the whole episode.  There were literally no other cast members, just Christina (or sometimes Cyndi) mugging her way through endless solo sketches that inevitably led to singing.  And it just kept going on and on and on until...

...Until I woke up and stumbled out of bed.  At first it felt like my pain was gone, but all at once it returned, shooting down my leg, making my foot tingle.  Hard at this point to say which hurts more, reality or my dream state, but at least in the real world I won't have to suffer through any more punishingly unfunny attempts at comedy.

At least, I hope not.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


It's strange--I spent nearly a year living in the suburbs of D.C., and in all that time it's almost impossible to remember many days that were gray or overcast.  It snowed maybe twice in the winter, there was occasional rain.  Mostly, though, the sky remained a dazzling blue.

After that terrible day in September, of course, even that beautiful sky seemed threatening.

The ten year anniversary of 9/11 is playing out in depressingly predictable fashion, with trite retrospective TV specials and memorial events that just go through the motions and, most ludicrously, t-shirts and placards proclaiming ridiculous homilies like "We Remember" and "Never Forget".

Like it's even possible to forget.  Even more terrible than the day itself was the lingering fear, still in the air for days and weeks and months thereafter.  Constantly scanning the sky just in case, or flinching at every backfiring car, or steering clear of every unattended package in Metro stations.

Just living through those days took its toll.  Our hearts beat faster, waiting for the other shoe to drop.  And if anyone I knew had died in the attacks, even a pacifist lefty like me would have been in full "Let's kill those dirty bastards" vengeance mode.  But through it all, I was never so naive as to think that what happened was somehow unprovoked.  While we in this country believed we were under attack, many people in other nations simply thought of it as retaliation.

How could we go around meddling in the affairs of other countries without thinking it would eventually come back home?  This nation has done some pretty unsavory things, ostensibly for the cause of freedom and democracy--though just as often for profit--while too many of its citizens remained unaware.  We've made a lot of enemies.  Can we honestly claim surprise when some of them decide to fight back?

At the time, asking such a question was considered tantamount to treason.  To this day, some would claim my views as part of the "Blame America" crowd.  Except...I'm not claiming there's any blame to be had.  No one would ever say we deserved to be attacked.  But it happened anyway.  Sometimes, to quote that great American icon Clint Eastwood, deserve's got nothing to do with it.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011


Mom again, casually sitting in a crowded cafeteria.

I don't even see her at first.  I'm talking to some friends, then excuse myself to use the restroom.  As I walk by her, she looks up and smiles, nodding slightly.  Trying to think of something to say, I ask, "Is there anything I should know?"

She doesn't say a word--very unusual for Mom--but stands, laboriously unfolding her walker, and hobbles out of the now empty cafeteria.  I follow her not even five feet down a hallway.  Suddenly we're in a living room.

Not one I recognize, but it seems familiar anyway.  The TV--huge and hi-def, but still a Quasar!--is tuned to the latest Fast And The Furious entry, Dad sits in the corner laughing at some of the most outrageous stunts, a stack of empty Grain Belt cans on the shelf beside him.  There are children sprawled throughout the room, and I instantly recognize them as my brothers and sisters, but younger than I have ever known them.  Some watch the movie in rapt attention, some play, some tussle, but all seem to be having a good time.

In the middle of it all stands Mom, smiling warmly.  She doesn't say anything, but I understand.

The ambitions I might have once had in my life never quite materialized.  Where's that novel I meant to write, or the next book, or anything substantial?  Why don't I live in New York or Seattle or even Minneapolis?  Where are all my quick-witted hipster friends?

Turns out, none of that is needed.  I romp around the house with my dog while Janie watches Dancing With The Stars, or she'll read some historical romance while I watch Mitchell on Mystery Science Theater 3000 for roughly the five hundredth time.  Whatever we're doing, we'll stop now and then to hold each other, to say, "I love you."

Back in the living room, Mom nestles in her chair, perusing her copy of  The Murder, She Wrote Companion.  She glances at me, says something.  The noise level in the room makes it hard to hear, but it sounds very much like, "This is life.  Enjoy."

Monday, September 05, 2011


It's just a trailer, so this may not reflect the finished film at all.  Still...

When John Carter Of Mars first went into production, there was reason to be excited.  It was officially produced under Pixar's auspices, with Finding Nemo's Andrew Stanton directing what was promised as an ambitious mix of live action and CGI animation.  Soon, it became a Disney production, Of Mars was dropped from the title, and we got this trailer, which just doesn't look like much of anything.

It's not bad, but boy, is it ever familiar.  And not because Edgar Rice Burroughs' books have been freely ripped off by so many filmmakers over the years, but because this movie looks to be using any number of familiar tropes from those very same movies, from the dreary blue-and-orange lighting scheme to the live action hero facing numerous weightless CGIed foes.  Even with digital enhancement, the Martian landscape looks suspiciously like Monument Valley.  (The two movies that immediately pop to mind watching this are Prince Of Persia and Cowboys And Aliens, which doesn't speak well for box office prospects.)  And with Peter Gabriel's Arcade Fire cover droning away in the background, the whole thing seems a bit somber.

I mean, it's great that they're taking the material seriously, but shouldn't an adaptation of a pulp classic seem a little more fun?  Obviously this movie wasn't going to contain the abundant nudity found in Burroughs' books, but couldn't it include some of its lurid, overripe sensibilities? 

Couldn't it, in other words, be more like this?

Mike Hodges' Flash Gordon was widely ignored or openly hated by audiences and critics back in 1980, but its reputation has grown over the years, largely because there's no other movie quite like it.  The campy attitude of its script (by Lorenzo Semple, who was largely responsible for the tone of the Adam West Batman series) is overcome by the brilliantly out-there sets and costumes of Danilo Donati and the gorgeously saturated camerawork of Gilbert Taylor.  You can quibble with its tone or rue the unfortunate lead performance of the anti-charismatic Sam Jones, but there's no denying that this movie looks like the cover of a pulp novel come to glorious life. 

If the makers of John Carter had looked to it for inspiration, while finding a more serious tone of their own...ah, well.  It's just a trailer.  Maybe the movie will be better.  Maybe.